Wednesday, March 27, 2013

X-Wing Rogue Squadron Omnibus Volume 2

Volume 2 of the X-Wing Rogue Squadron Omnibus begins with a short adventure seeing the Rogues  liberating the planet Tandankin from Imperial control.  During the fighting, Wedge is forced to destroy a monument sacred to the Tandankin people and comes up against vehement criticism from the locals.  A certain pilot by the name of Luke Skywalker explains all of the heroic things Wedge has done to try to mollify them.  It's a slight story, but probably a good refresher for people who are a bit fuzzy on Wedge's background.

The next story arc reprinted, "Battleground: Tatooine" features Rogue Squadron being sent in to investigate Imperial connections on the planet.  Biggs Darklighter's father is holding a special reception to honor his son's death, but a Twi'lek criminal named Firith Olan takes advantage of the distraction to have hired guns steal a datadisk from Darklighter's safe that holds the location of a secret Imperial cache of weapons and starfighters.  The Rogues manage to find the cache and destroy it before Firith can set himself up as a warlord on Tatooine, but he escapes to Ryloth.  The Rogues chase him, but Firith escapes again with the help of an ambitious Imperial leader named Semtin, and the two return to Tatooine to another secret Imperial base! (Apparently, they're laying under every rock on this strategically-useless and remote Outer Rim planet . . .).  The Rogues return and destroy that base as well.  Most of the story is pretty average, but I did quite like the interplay between Firith Olan and his special guest: Bib Fortuna's brain, which, in close continuity with Tales From Jabba's Palace, is stored in the spider-like repository of the Bo'Marr monks.  There's a great twist ending here that makes the rest worth reading.

The second story arc is "The Warrior Princess", which focusses on the Rogue named Plourr Ilo.  Plourr is revealed to be a lost princess from the world of Eiattu, and she reluctantly returns to the planet to help solve a civil war.  A renegade Imperial leader named Tavira gets involved and props up an impostor pretending to be Plourr's long-dead brother.  The Rogues save the day, of course, but Tavira escapes to fight another day and Plourr decides to say on Eiattu and lead her people into the future.  The personality given to Tavira was good and distinguished her nicely from the standard Imperial leader, and the story took the time to flesh out Eiattu's political system.  I don't find Plourr a particularly interesting character, however, so a story focussing on her is not going to be my favourite.

The last story arc in the book, "Requiem for a Rogue", is quite good.  The Rogues travel to a planet called Malrev 4 in the hopes of rescuing a Bith starliner that has strayed off course.  The fate of the vessel, and its inhabitants, are tied into an interesting story about ancient Sith temples and magic.  Two Rogues die in the story, and that's the sort of thing I think is necessary to keep up the tension, as, for the most part, it seems like the Rogues are pretty much invincible regardless of how heavy the odds are stacked against them.

Now I've just got to track down the third and final volume of the series!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Realms Toowoomba Recap # 21 [RPG]

[18 Mirtul 1372] 

The group continues travelling east towards Nesme. That evening, the decision is made to camp without a fire, a decision Cain is not pleased with. 
[19 Mirtul 1372]

The group crests a hill to see a small caravan of wagons clustered around a pond in the grassland below. Minutes later, another caravan of wagons arrives from the east, and the two small caravans begin exchanging long, shallow boxes. Although Mellia stays behind examining some strange mystic runes round on a hillside, the other members of the group walk down to meet the caravans, one of which appears to be setting off west and the other back to the east. A man calling himself Verdos rushes out to meet the group. When asked, he explains that he is a coffin-maker transporting his wares to Nesme. He weaves a story about how bodies are increasingly rising from the dead in the Evermoors, but that his coffins come with strong locks to keep that from happening. The group offers their services as caravan guards for the remainder of the voyage to Nesme, and Verdos agrees. 

[20 Mirtul 1372]

In the morning, Fargrim decides to ask Verdos about Startop Mountain. Cain notices that the man seems nervous and looks away while denying any knowledge of it. Cain conveys his suspicion to Fargrim, but the two decide not to take action at the moment. Soon thereafter, Mellia catches up to the group.

Later that afternoon, on the west bank of the Subrin, the travelers encounter the rubble of a large fortress, former home to the Riders of Nesme. A bridge spanning the Subrin to the city on the eastern bank has also been destroyed, and only a large barge now offers a way across. As the first of the wagons is loaded on the barge, Mellia is told about Verdos' strange reaction to mention of Startop Mountain. She concocts a plan with Cain; the cleric will ask the man about it again, while Mellia will cast a mystical incantation to detect his inner thoughts.

When the two adventurers put their plan into motion, a suspicious Verdos spots Mellia casting a spell and demands that she stop. When she doesn't, he suddenly lashes out with a vicious strike to her face! All of Verdos' caravan guards had "coincidentally" stayed on this side of the river, and they leap into action, pummelling Mellia and Cain with quarterstaffs. A brief battle ensues, as Mellia manages to escape by turning invisible, Fargrim cuts one of the guards almost in twain, Markus disarms a guard and then charges into battle on horseback, and Cain incapacitates several of the guards by shattering their eardrums with a magickal sonic burst.

In the confusion of battle, however, "Verdos" manages to escape by jumping into the river and swimming for the far bank. Two his men try the same thing, but their inability to swim leaves them flailing and splashing. Markus shoots one of the swimmers in the back with an arrow, while Fargrim pulls the other one out. A brief interrogation reveals that the escaped leader's name is Melchor, and that the contents of the coffins are actually slaves headed for Startop Mountain! Fargrim allows the guard to flee, much to Mellia's dismay. 

A quick search of the two remaining wagons shows that the bandit's words are true: a slave is imprisoned within each coffin. When the barge returns to the west bank, a difficult task is had trying to convince the bargewright to waive his normal 5 gp/head fee so that all of the slaves can cross. Markus manages to persuade the stubborn and frustrating man to accept 20 gp and two horses as payment.

As they cross to the far side of the river, it becomes clear just how much devastation has been brought to Nesme. The city walls have been breached in several places, many homes have been reduced to piles of rubble, and the remaining citizenry are heavily-armed and suspicious. The slaves brought on the barge and freed from the third wagon are put safely into the hands of the city guard, and the four adventurers find lodging in a no-questions-asked boarding house.

In the middle of the night, Mellia turns herself invisible, runs to where the barge is tied up at the western pier, and cuts it loose.

[21 Mirtul 1372] 

While Mellia works on scribing a Shield scroll, the others sell the excess horses they took from the slavers. Having heard word that adventurers are quite welcome and well-remunerated in Nesme, the trio journey to the gilded spire, a former temple to Waukeen, that now houses the Nesme Council. There, the First Speaker of the Council, Tessarin "Longtresses" Alaurun, a beautiful but beleaguered sorceress, tells the group about the bounty on giants (250 gp each) and other monstrous creatures that are responsible for Nesme's current dire situation. She relates the hope that the newly-formed Confederacy of the Silver Marches, an alliance of the region's largest cities, will admit Nesme to membership and send aid.

Upon request, she arranges for the city to purchase the wagons captured from the slavers, and on a well-detailed map of the Silver Marches, she points out the precise location of Startop Mountain, mentioning that she has heard it is now a monastery to Lathander, the Morninglord. 
Director's Commentary (Feb. 6, 2014)

The adventurers continue to make good progress towards Startop Mountain, this time reaching the last bastion of civilization before the wilds of the Evermoors: Nesme.  As I write this (circa Session # 66), the group is about to head back to Nesme (long story!) and will find it quite changed.

The battle against the slavers went pretty well for the party, even though the slaver's leader managed to escape (he would be fought again on Startop).  I thought Markus putting an arrow through a fleeing slaver who was struggling to swim was a bit cold!

I portrayed the bargeman as a real jerk, trying to charge the party the full cost to transport every slave they had rescued from the coffins.  It was very funny to see Mellia, out of spite, return in the middle of the night and untie the man's barge, letting it flow down the river.  Short-term satisfaction, though I don't think she realized she at least temporarily cut off any connection between Nesme and the outside world.

Next Recap

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Attention, Les Enfants Regardent

Should I put a SPOILER warning on a 43 year old book?  Well, maybe just in case.

I guess the best genre to classify Attention, Les Enfants Regardent ("The Children are Watching") in would be "thriller."  The plot definitely deserves credit for being unique.  While their Hollywood-producer parents are on a long vacation, a group of 5 children are left under the supervision of their housekeeper.  The kids are downright obsessed with television, watching it from the minute they wake up until they have to go to bed, with an elaborate system of who gets to decide what to watch and a heavily-notated T.V. Guide.  One day, after locking the kids out of the T.V. room and pocketing the key, the heavily-hungover housekeeper falls asleep on an air mattress on the beach behind the house.  The exact sequence of events that follows is not 100% clear to me because of my French comprehension limitations, but basically, in trying to retrieve the key from the functionally unconscious housekeeper, the kids end up pushing her out into the water where she floats away. Later, her body will turn up on the beach, leaving the kids a) terrified they'll be arrested and b) overjoyed to have the freedom to eat what they want, watch what they want, and sleep when they want.  I think if real Hollywood got ahold of this plot today they would turn it into a slapstick comedy full of food-fight montages, but in this novel it's treated as a very tense subject: especially when the housekeeper's menacing boyfriend starts nosing around and, realizing the kids are alone, barges into the house and starts sleeping in their parents bed and examining their gun collection.  The effective tension that continues through the novel is whether the kids' action will be discovered, will their parents make it home, will the housekeeper's boyfriend explode in a fit of rage, etc.  Overall, an effective story that is slightly reminiscent of Lord of the Flies and Misery.  The major subtext is the kids' fascination with television, something I think about myself now that my son is a T.V. zombie some mornings!  I should note that I'm not sure about the novel's portrayal of Mexicans.  Both the housekeeper and her menacing boyfriend are Mexicans, and there's a lot of discussion by tertiary characters about Mexicans in general; my language skills aren't good enough to tell if this book is intended as an authentic evocation of discrimination in upper-class L.A. neighbourhoods or should be taken as racist in itself.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Card Controversy

In the past year or so, I became a big fan of Orson Scott Card's Ender series of novels.  I listened to Ender's Game as an audiobook, and thought it was one of the best novels I had read in years.  I enjoyed its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, almost as much.  And although I thought the third book, Xenocide, was disappointing, I would probably try the fourth sometime in the next several months.  I wrote a glowing review of the first two, right here on this blog.

Nowhere in the three novels did I notice a philosophy of conservatism or intolerance; indeed, I think it's not spoilerly to say that a major theme of the books is tolerance towards those who, at first glance, might not even seem human, much less compatibly-aligned from a moral perspective.  It was thus a huge surprise to read about the recent controversy that erupted when Card was signed by DC Comics to write some issues of Superman; it turns out, Card is fervently anti-gay, has repeatedly condemned gay marriage as a member of the National Organization for Marriage, and has even argued that anti-sodomy laws should still be on the books.  It's no secret where I stand on these issues: I believe strongly in civil libertarian values, am bisexual myself, and have written about the importance of same-sex marriageGLBT adoption rights, and more.

So how then to respond to Card?  Should I personally boycott the author and refuse to buy any more of his books?  There is something to be said for not voluntarily putting money in the hands of someone I disagree with so vehemently on an issue I consider a matter of fundamental justice and equality.  But Card is not a government with the power to make laws, a corporation with the power to determine employee benefits, or a public organization with the power to determine membership; examples of instances where boycotts can be very useful.  Card's viewpoints, on their own, do not tangibly deprive anyone of anything,.  Even if a dramatic decline in book sales leads Card to keep quiet in the future on the issue of gay marriage, or, even publicly recant, it's not likely to do anything to change what he really believes.  Support for GLBT rights spreads through changing hearts and minds, not intimidating people into silence.

It's a close call, but I think that's right.  I don't research the personal views of the authors of the books, comics, and t.v. shows I enjoy.  I enjoy them on their own merits, knowing that the writer and what is written may vary dramatically.  So Card, you might just get me to buy another one of your books in the future.  Maybe.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Jocasta, Mysterious Corsair [Clone Wars Campaign]

I've talked about this before, but the Sun Runners were in many ways my vicarious way of participating in the campaign as opposed to just running it; the short stories featuring the group are some of my favorite, and gave me a chance to expand on each of their personalities--Jocasta included.  Jocasta was portrayed as having mysterious motivations--always good for catching the players' interest--but a strong sense of loyalty to her crew.  She was also a woman of her word, which famously served as a counter-example to Daal's tendency towards manipulation.  The Duro despised Jocasta, and that led to some really interesting role-playing as Arresta and Doxen were able to respect the corsair.

The initial impetus for coming up with Jocasta was this: I needed a leader for a rival adventuring group of NPCs, and I wanted that leader to be damned cool.  I always liked the exotic, punk-rock look that Storm briefly embraced, and used that as my image for what Jocasta would look like.  To layer her into the campaign and make her a potential campaign-long adversary, I developed a backstory connection between Jocasta and Tarn Tamarand's master, Horellius Creen, that would give Jocasta motivation to keep an eye on (or interfere with) the PCs.  The premise was that Jocasta, a shapechanger of the species called Gurlanin, was once Creen's Padawan in the form of a young boy.  From Jocasta's point of view, Creen sent her into an impossible situation and left her to die.  As a form of vengeance, Jocasta ensured that Creen's subsequent Padawans would meet a similar fate.  Jocasta continued to seek positions of power using her shapechanging abilities--she influenced the media in the form of Erelea Cadal, a Holonet reporter; the Republic military in the form of  Lance Commander Algura Kuras; and more.  When Jocasta discovered the existence of the Anomaly, she invested an enormous amount of her resources into a project to discover how to summon it to a particular place and, perhaps, take control.

The campaign ended, in a way, as it began: with Jocasta and Creen once again squaring off and Tarn Tamarand caught in the middle.  Who will take control of the Anomaly, and what will they do with it?  Only future campaigns and short stories will tell . . .


M/F Gurlanin Jedi 4/Scoundrel 6/Master Privateer 7/Scout 3

HP: 189 (Threshold: 34)

Spd. 6, FP: 16 (rolls d8s)

Defences:  Fort +24, Reflex +26, Will +27 (add 10 if not using house rules)

Abilities:  Str 12 (+1), Dex 18 (+4), Con 16 (+3), Int 14 (+2), Wis 16 (+3), Cha 18 (+4)

Skills:  Acrobatics +19, Climb +11, Deception +19, Endurance +18, Gather Info +14, Initiative +14, Jump +11, Knowledge: Technology +17, Knowledge (all others) +12, Perception +18, Persuasion +14, Pilot +19, Ride +14, Stealth +19, Survival +13, Swim +11, Treat Injury +13, Use Computer +17, Use the Force +24

Attacks:  Vibrocutlass +19, d. 3d6+11 (flamethrower +21, d. 2d12+10 in 1x4 square area, fire does 1d6 round until full-round action to extinguish);  Full round +18/+18 d. 3d6+11 each

Species Bonus: +10 Disguise as full-round action; Startle 1/encounter as reaction to attack (Deception vs. Will defence for -5 to attack roll)

Force Powers:  Battle Strike, Negate Energy, Mind Trick, Rebuke

Languages:  Basic, Gurlanin

Equipment:  Medpacs, vibrocutlass, comlink, security kit, med-kit

Identities:  Itey'Jinn (Gurlanin youth on Qilura); Aleera Cotjasa (Padawan), Erelea Cadal (Holonet reporter), Jocasta (Corsair), Lance Commander Algura Karas (2nd Republic Fleet)

Feats:  Force Sensitive, WP: Lightsabers, WP: Simple, Strong in the Force, Skill Focus: Use the Force, Force Training, Rapid Stirke, WP: Pistols, Skill Training: Stealth, Burst of Speed, Skill Training: Deception, Vehicular Combat, Skill Training: Pilot, Triple Critical: Cutlass, Weapon Finesse, Shake It Off, Double Attack

Talents:  Clear Mind, Force Haze, Sneak Attack, Spacehound, Dastardly Strike, Bloodthirsty, Veteran Privateer, Fight to the Death, Multiattack x2, Evasion, Traceless Tampering